I’ve never been a fan of these all-time lists, because most people who write them have little to no first-hand knowledge of how well a player performed in his day.
Being a man of only 39 years, I would fall into the category of one of those guys who has missed quite a bit of the heyday of college basketball. With guys like Lew Alcindor, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain patrolling the courts before my time, I couldn’t begin to say who was better than a Michael Jordan, a Chris Jackson or a Patrick Ewing.
This is why I jumped at the chance to write about the best Syracuse freshmen of all time. I’ve seen almost all of them play.
In 1954, the NCAA banned freshmen from being eligible for varsity play. This ban remained until 1968, when the NCAA lifted the ban on all sports other than football and basketball.
In 1972, freshmen basketball and football finally got their due, as the NCAA lifted the ban for all sports. This means that I feel I can confidently present an all-time list of Syracuse freshmen because they just haven’t been playing that long.
Fortunately, Jim Boeheim has been at the Syracuse bench for as long as freshmen have been allowed to play and has given Syracuse fans plenty of exciting freshmen.
The parameters are my eye test, so forgive me for any omissions or over/under ranking. You’ll just have to live with it.
On with the show.
Niagara Falls native Jonny Flynn made an immediate impact in his first game in an Orange uniform against Siena, scoring 28 points and eclipsing Carmelo Anthony’s record for points in a debut game for Syracuse.
He followed that up with a game-winning three pointer to beat St. Joe’s and never looked back the entire season.
Flynn’s 185 assists were the second-highest total for a freshman in Syracuse history and his 548 points were good for fourth all time for Orange freshmen.
He was also an incredible minute vacuum, who had a stretch where he played 313 consecutive minutes, good for seven straight complete games.
All numbers aside, Flynn was instant offense. At only 6’0”, he could get to the net and finish, or could step back and hit a three, of which his 56 were the third-best for a Syracuse freshman.
He was everything Syracuse wanted from a point guard and had an engine that wouldn’t quit.
He was co-Big East freshman of the year and a third team All-American freshman.
Another great point guard, Adrian Autry took command of the Orangemen from Michael Edwards, who was a decent guard, but at 5’10” didn’t give Syracuse the tools that 6’4” Autry brought.
A Bronx native, Autry could take the ball in or shoot from the outside. He was a very good distributor for Billy Owens and company to the tune of 5.3 assists per game.
He scored nearly 10 points per game as a freshman and could rebound well for a guard. He was also a reliable free-throw shooter.
Autry’s heady play and strong overall skill made him an easy All-Big East freshman selection.
Scranton, PA’s favorite son is also one of the favorite heroes of Syracuse lore.
Gerry McNamara was an incredible shooter for the 2003 national champion Orange. He had a Marino-like quick release and the unflappability of a Martin Brodeur.
His six three pointers made in the first half of the national championship game against Kansas tied him for an NCAA record. But as good as he was from the outside; he was even deadlier from the free-throw line, setting the Big East record for free throw percentage in a season with 90.9 percent made.
McNamara was a natural off guard, but played the point well in Billy Edelin’s absence, due to a suspension.
He was selected to the All-Final Four Team and the Big East All-Rookie Team.
As an added bonus, a bobble head of G-Mac can always be seen on the desk of Dwight Schrute on the television show, The Office.
Dale “Dr. Shack” Shackleford was a 6’6” dynamo force for Syracuse and was the first freshman to start for then-coach Roy Danforth.
Shackleford was sort of a Charles Barkley for the Orangemen. Undersized as a forward/center, he was a ferocious rebounder, grabbing almost nine per game as a freshman. He was a five-tool player who could handle the ball like a guard and was a good passer, as well.
Shackleford is the one player on this list I never saw play, but his ability to play every position on the court, combined with his rebounding and defensive prowess, plus everything I already know about him, earn him a spot.
Roosevelt Bouie formed one half of the famous Bouie ‘N Louie Show for Syracuse, along with fellow freshman Louis Orr.
Bouie owned the middle of the Syracuse lane, turning away shots, swallowing rebounds and could easily move around the court, even with his 6’11” frame.
Bouie helped lead Syracuse and first-year head coach Jim Boeheim to a 26-4 record.
He was a second-team All-American freshman, helped in part by his uncanny free throw shooting of 83.6 percent, although it was a skill that would not stay with him.
Syracuse fans can thank the great Dave Bing for steering “DC” to Syracuse. Bing developed the lanky kid from Detroit during his high school days and sent his old college roommate, Jim Boeheim, one of the greatest rebounders in the history of the NCAA.
Coleman was the essential do-everything player for Syracuse. He was a magnet for the ball off the glass, played great defense, could shoot from the outside and had a ball-handling ability like no Syracuse big man had ever possessed.
As a freshman, Coleman helped Syracuse get to its first NCAA championship game. Coleman grabbed 19 boards in that game, a freshman record, but ended up falling short when he missed a free that would have put the game away for the Orangemen, which led to the infamous Keith Smart shot, giving Indiana the title.
It took until 2003, when Syracuse won its first NCAA championship, for Jim Boeheim to let Coleman know that he was off the hook for his hiccup at the free-throw line.
Big East Rookie of the Year honors were bestowed upon the enigmatic Coleman, the first of many accolades.
When the topic of New York street legends comes up, there may not be a brighter star than Brooklyn’s Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, who was arguably the most exciting player in Syracuse history.
Pearl, not known for his speed, could beat nearly any defender to the rim with an incredible ability to dribble the ball. His arrival at Syracuse was met with excited crowds, teaming with excitement over seeing this phenom dismantle opposing defenses.
Pearl had a command of the court as a point guard. His ability to draw defenders to him and find the open man led to average over six assists per game as a freshman.
Pearl’s arrival packed the Carrier Dome and helped spread the word that Syracuse was a premier destination for the nation’s best recruits.
As a freshman, Pearl was named Big East Rookie of the Year and was on the All-Big East first team.
Billy Owens arrived at Syracuse as the heir apparent to Derrick Coleman.
In my youth in South Jersey, Owens was a known commodity from Carlisle, PA, having won four straight Pennsylvania state titles.
Owens was the perfect complement to Coleman, managing 13 points and seven rebounds per game on a team overloaded with talent.
Owens had a nearly flawless skill set, with his ability to score, pass, defend, rebound and dribble, and was another example of the Syracuse recruiting powerhouse of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Lawrence Moten was the definition of silky smooth. He was the prototypical slasher for Syracuse and was a scoring machine for every moment he wore the Syracuse uniform.
Nicknamed, “Poetry in Moten,” Lawrence averaged over 18 points per game as a freshman, and could score from almost anywhere on the court. At 6’5” and 185 lbs., Moten wasn’t imposing or physical, but his court awareness was off the charts.
Moten was a good rebounder, a decent passer and could defend well, but his nose for the basket made him the most prolific scorer in Big East history.
Lawrence Moten was one of the most exciting players to wear a Syracuse uniform and was the Big East Rookie of the Year, guiding the Orangemen to a conference title in his first year.
While he only played for the Orange for one season, Carmelo Anthony’s impact will be remembered in Syracuse forever.
Anthony was easily the best freshman in the nation, leading the Orange to their first NCAA championship and earning Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. He could also be in the discussion for best freshman at any school.
Carmelo Anthony was a once-in-a-lifetime talent, and not much hasn’t been written about him that I can add—so I’ll just present this interesting tidbit.
Anthony, who now plays for the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden, scored his first college basket with a slam dunk against Memphis in that same Garden.
In February, Carmelo Anthony will become the 10th Syracuse player to have his number retired, an unbelievable achievement for a one-year player.